When we first became nurses, our primary goal was to become good at our jobs (AKA survive the first year or so). I haven’t ever met one nurse who said that they came out of school totally prepared for what being a nurse actually entails. And it’s not a slow transition from student to practicing nurse, it’s more like a baptism by fire.
Thankfully, like anything else, with repetitive exposure and practice, we gain skills and confidence; we become good at our jobs. The truth is, this initial period of terrifying growth sets us up to be able to continue to grow, keeping up with new treatments and modalities and maybe moving from one specialty to another. We take on new roles and responsibilities, the growth itself can keep us going.
But eventually, being good at your job just isn’t enough.
You may know exactly what I mean, or you may have not thought of it this way before.
The driving force when we begin as nurses, or take on a new role as a nurse, is to gain competency. We understand this and we put a tremendous amount of mental and physical energy toward accomplishing it. Ultimately, we get to a point where we don’t worry that much about the skills involved with our jobs, we got it down. And yet, this is often when we start to feel run down by our jobs. Perhaps it’s the lack of the designated endpoint of excellence, perhaps it’s the absence of the adrenaline needed for attainment of that excellence, perhaps it’s the aggravation of a system that sets up obstacles to us working to our full potential, perhaps it’s a natural cycling of a career.
Whatever it is, it sucks.
We worked hard to get to where we are and now we feel some combination of discouragement, drudgery, exhaustion, apathy, and loss of purpose. We feel jaded.
Why is this ok? Why do we accept that this is what it should be after we have worked as nurses for a while? Why do we pretend that being good at our jobs is enough when clearly, we are not feeling the satisfaction that should come with this?
I am here to tell you that it’s NOT enough. It’s not enough for YOUR wellbeing and purpose and health to just be good at your job.
Being good at your job is just the first step, it’s a prerequisite to feeling better at work. Once you free up the mental energy that you were spending on becoming a confident nurse, you can dedicate it to being HAPPY in your work. This is crucial because we can’t feel one way for 8-12 hours of a day and then expect to just flip a switch when we get home. How we feel at work affects how we feel at home and how we feel at home affects everything; our relationships, our motivation, our food choices, how we spend our time (you get the picture).
I hope you see that this is moving in a positive direction.
You do have the energy to do this, you have used this same energy to get you to all the places you are now, you just didn’t know that this was the next course of study.
It doesn’t require magic to feel better at work, it literally just requires learning the process, a process that a lot of smart people have figured out for us (we don’t have to create it, just personalize it.)
Can you be a student of happiness?
Here are some of the cliff notes.
1. Focus on the good you ARE doing, focus on WHY you are doing what you do. When is the last time you gave this any thought?
2. Breathe. I wish I had learned this earlier in my life. We must learn to self-sooth, to down-regulate our nervous systems. This isn’t complicated. Drop your shoulders, take a big deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds and then breathe out for twice as long as the inhale. That’s it, parasympathetic nervous system activated. This is just one breathing technique, others are a quick YouTube search away.
3. Not fond of breathing, that’s ok (although I was never a fan of dis-impacting someone and I did that anyway). But if you really don’t want to try breathing, try stretching, or listening to your favorite song, dancing, tapping, exercise (just remember I gave the option for breathing).
4. Connect. Is there some way to connect with the members of your team a little bit more? Can you connect with other nurses through professional organizations or social media? Feeling like a team is protective against burnout and we all know that one team member can affect the whole vibe of the team. How are you contributing to the vibe? Can you uplevel a little bit?
5. Reframe. Are there other ways to think about your current situation that make you feel better than what you are thinking now? Think about a situation that is bothering you. What happens if you ask yourself “what else could be true here”.
Obviously, this is just a list of 5 of the approaches to start feeling better at work. There are many, many more. It’s not rocket science but if you don’t know what you don’t know, how can you move forward?
This is 100% something we can gain competency in, we are born learners. All it takes is a decision to enroll, a decision to work on these skills with the same passion and dedication that we worked on to get where we are professionally.
It is attainable if you are willing to do the work. I challenge you to ask yourself,
what is the cost if you don’t?
What is the benefit if you do?
P.S. If you missed it, this is our year to reclaim the joy of nursing (as proclaimed by me). On the first Thursday of each month, I am hosting a free online event. Each month we will explore another approach to feeling better at work. We will share our experiences and do some coaching.
It’s a once a month opportunity to join a community of nurses and get some of the support and ideas that you need to keep doing this work. Just click here to register for the next event on February 1st at 7pm EST.